eBay global outage – search system down globally most of 11/21/09

November 21, 2009

ChannelAdvisor ChannelAdvisor By ChannelAdvisor

Around noon ET we started to get some inbound requests from sellers asking about the status of our systems because of unusually slow order flow.  Everything was fine on our end.  We realised that eBay’s search system was having instability and ultimately a hard outage.  You can follow the official eBay Announcement board here for details.  At the time of writing, it looks like we’re going on a 6hr+ outage here.

The problems manifest themselves in zero search results like you see here.  It’s interesting that eBay chooses this behaviour instead of a page saying the site is down.  You’ll notice that the sponsored listings and other advertisements are all doing just fine.


This is a bad buyer experience IMO because it makes it seem like eBay has zero (ipods, xbox, etc.)

There was a similar, but shorter outage last in in October.  There are four general buckets of problems that will impact a search engine like this:

  • New software has bugs – Hopefully they haven’t rolled new software this time of year, but if they did it would be a likely culprit.
  • New hardware causing problems – Perhaps they slipped in some last minute new hardware that is having problems
  • Existing hardware problem – Search engines require lots and lots of storage and lots of machines to hold the indexes and serve them quickly.  There’s a lot that can go wrong in there. eBay invests heavily to make sure they don’t have any Single Points of Failure (SPOFs in our world), so I doubt this is it – it would have to be pretty massive to see the impact we are seeing here.
  • Existing software/system  bug/corruption – As the holiday sales period ramps up, software systems are put under pressures they don’t see in other time frames. This can cause hidden bugs and problems to pop up.

Judging by the hint given in the AB post – “errors in our  backend systems”, I’m going to go with the ‘existing system bug’ theory, but it’s all speculation at this point until we learn more.

One thing is clear, this doesn’t give anyone in the eBay ecosystem confidence that the site will be up and robust for the critical next 30 day prime time holiday selling period.

Impact on sellers

Sellers are asking us if there will be some form of compensation from eBay.  I believe eBay has to declare it an outage first and then they automatically extend listings 24 hours as compensation.  You could theoretically argue that this isn’t an outage as the front end of the site is up.  That’s an empty argument as it’s like saying your car is starts fine even though it has four flat tires.

The ‘extend listings 24hrs’ thing is a kick back to the auction orientation of the site and doesn’t really apply to today’s fixed price world where a days worth of sales have been effectively lost and extending listings won’t bring ’em back.

Speaking of SPOFs, we’ve been guiding sellers that putting all of your eggs in one basket isn’t prudent.  Today is one of those days that amplifies that message for eBay-only sellers.

What’s the impact on you?

eBay Strategies readers, did you experience the outage?  What was the impact on your business?

SeekingAlpha Disclosure – I am long Google and Amazon.  eBay is an investor in ChannelAdvisor where I am CEO.